In the coming days, the number of American dead in Iraq will reach 1,000. Leaving completely aside all the -- entirely appropriate, in my view -- questions as to the rationale and prosecution of this war, this number is at the heart of a story with worldchanging overtones: the transformation of emergency medicine. Because of better training, medical innovations and quicker battlefield evacuations, there are many American soldiers alive today after receiving wounds that would have killed them a decade ago.
Medical advances are very worldchanging. We're not into people dying needlessly -- whether from hunger, disease or improvised explosive devices. From that perspective, recent advances in battlefield medical techniques interest us greatly. Military innovations often end up "spinning off" into civilian advances, and as technological developments are approved for non-military hospitals and reservist medical professionals return to their civilian lives, the developments keeping injured soldiers alive on the battlefield will be used to keep injured civilians alive in emergencies. (Whether more advances would come from greater direct public investment into civilian research is another question altogether.) We'd like this to be a world in which the occupation of "soldier" was as antiquated as that of "thimbler." But until that happens, we'd like conflict to be as survivable as possible.
The benefits of better emergency medicine don't just accrue to Americans. Improved emergency medical techniques are increasingly spreading to the developing world. Such innovations are particularly valuable in the work being done to build the capacity to respond quickly and strongly to earthquakes and other large-scale disasters.
We aren't doing nearly enough to feed the hungry, to cure preventable disease or to provide basic sanitation to the world's poorest billion, so perhaps emergency medicine seems a bit superfluous. It's not. Military conflicts and natural disasters hit the poorest parts of the world with a particular vengeance. Emergency medicine is a piece of the puzzle, a part of the whole fabric of creating a world where all live longer and healthier lives.
(And if you really want to geek out, take a look at Disaster Medicine in the 21st Century: Future Hazards, Vulnerabilities, and Risk.)
Not just on the battlefield, either. A 2002 study on the falling murder rate in the U.S. determined that advances in trauma care, rather than some breakthrough in policing or prevention, were leading to more people being saved.
Let's keep the political asides to a minimum, shall we?
P.S. Who's the "we" that aren't doing nearly enough to feed the hungry?
the 'we' could be the ones that will never have to live in a shanty town, refugee camp or inadequate housing. the 'we' could be the ones who won't ever have to live on less than a dollar a day.
UN-Habitat studies have reported that currently 1 in 7 people live in inadequate living conditions, more commonly referred to as slums, and within the next 20 years this figure will be 1 in 3.
We aren't doing nearly enough.
Well, the closing of Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals in the United States are closing because Emergency Medical Care in the field has reached a level which more rarely has people lingering in beds for decades.
There's a little insight for some :)